In Statehouses, 2006 is Year of Surpluses, Social Issues

State lawmakers, enjoying their best budget climate in six years, splurged in 2006 on new projects - from a baseball stadium for the Minnesota Twins to a spaceport in New Mexico - while mustering new ideas to try to fix the nation's broken health care system and boosting the minimum wage for millions of workers.

In an exclusive comprehensive look at trends and ideas that caught fire in state legislatures in 2006, Stateline.org found that two of the most popular policies this election year were raising the minimum wage and expanding the rights of crime victims to use deadly force in self defense.

Eleven states passed laws hiking the minimum pay scale, compared with six last year. A total of 23 states now have laws requiring employers to pay more than the $5.15-an-hour floor that Congress approved in 1996 - and refused to raise as recently as this year.

In a victory for the National Rifle Association, 14 states leapt on the bandwagon and copied Florida's year-old law expanding the rights of crime victims to use deadly force against attackers. Supporters call them "stand-your-ground" statutes, while detractors call them "shoot-first" laws.

Stateline.org has compiled a state-by-state summary of legislative action in each of the 44 states that held regular sessions this year. Its review shows the overriding theme in 2006 was budget surpluses. For the first time since the 2001 terrorist attacks triggered a nationwide economic downturn, all but 10 of the 50 states were awash in money. The welcome reprieve from budget cutting and squeezing led legislatures to approve some tax cuts, some replenishing of states' "rainy day" accounts and some overdue investment in schools, roads and other services cut in leaner years.

Read the full report In Statehouses, 2006 is Year of Surpluses, Social Issues on Stateline.org.

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